How the Categories Were Selected
It was important when determining how to most effectively grade states on their drug policies that we take into account as many aspect of the War on Drugs as possible, from before an arrest is made to after someone is released from prison. We believe that government can play a crucial role in ensuring that drug use is as safe as possible and that those struggling with substance use disorder are helped, rather than punished.
- Marijuana Legalization: We support the full legalization of cannabis for medicinal and recreational use, and the creation of regulated marijuana markets. In 2016, nearly one in ten American reported having used marijuana in the last month, and more than 7 in 10 support either its legalization or decriminalization. In 2016, more than half a million Americans were charged with violating laws against marijuana possession.
- Civil Asset Forfeiture: Civil asset forfeiture is an opaque process that is ripe for abuse and corruption, often drastically punishing those who have not been charged with a crime. That this tool is often defended as being a force for good in the War on Drugs would be comical if it were not so dangerous. Only three states have abolished civil asset forfeiture. It is an issue that has received considerable attention in recent years, which is why it is one of our grading categories.
- Harm Reduction: The best way to both keep drug users out of prison and to help those struggling with substance abuse disorder is through government support of harm reduction programs. These policies include good Samaritan laws to anyone calling emergency services for an overdose), equipping first responders with the tools to reverse overdoses, and ensuring that medication-assisted-treatment is covered by state Medicaid. These policies are cost effective, decrease prison populations, and save lives.
- Prison and Post-Incarceration: Just as important as helping people avoid prison is supporting those who are in prison or have recently been released. Studies show that private prisons provide worse services than publicly-run prisons, do not improve recidivism rates, and are not less expensive to taxpayers. In addition, it is common for states to strip convicted felons of voting rights and supplemental assistance such as SNAP. Such policies hinder the ability of those convicted of drug crimes to reintegrate themselves into society and get the help they need.
We have chosen these four categories because they are some of the defining issues in the fight against the War on Drugs. In addition, they are issues largely decided at the state level, rather than by federal or local levels. Issues that were not included because they are largely determined by individual cities, rather than state-wide, include cash bail reform, ending mandatory minimums, and promoting social equity programs for victims of since-abolished marijuana laws.
How Grades Are Calculated
The grading system is designed to be as simple and straightforward as possible. The combined grade is the average of the four individual grades, with the grades converted to numerical value based on a 4 point system (A = 4.0; A- = 3.66; etc.) and rounded to the nearest third of a letter grade. We believe that these four issues are of equal importance, so all four category grades are weighted equally when calculating the overall grade.
Within each issue a series of questions is asked about each state to determine how strong or weak their policies are. The level at which a question affects the state’s grade is determined both by how important we consider each question within the individual issue and how much the state diverges from the ideal policy. For example, if a state bars needle distribution under drug paraphernalia laws it is docked a full letter grade, while if needle exchange programs are not authorized, but if needle distribution is legal, the state is only docked one third of a letter grade.
By clicking on an individual state you can find out its overall grade, its grades in each of the four categories, and the answers to all of the questions we asked about it. This also makes it easy to know which issues states need to address in order to improve how they treat drug users, felons, and those struggling with substance abuse disorders.
The Goal of the Map
The information within this map is neither comprehensive nor all-encompassing, but we believe it is an effective guide to complex and nuanced drug policies that impact the lives of millions of people. The first step in creating positive change is understanding what needs to be changed. This map will help supporters of new, better drug policies informed. Hopefully, over the next few years, we will help every state earn a better grade by reforming its most damaging policies.
Our goal is ending the War on Drugs, dismantling the prison industrial complex, and promoting smart, safe decisions around drug use. This map is our guide for creating that future. With your help, we can make it a reality.